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Winter Olympics: 5 Things to Know About Skeleton History Before the Sochi Games

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In contrast to the luge, skeleton competitors leap onto the sled for a headlong dash downhill.

Olympic competition consists of two events: men's singles and women's singles. Today, skeleton has become a niche event, but it was born in another century as an activity for wealthy tourists.

Here is how a leisurely slide down a snowy slope turned into a high-speed downhill hurtle for gold lasting about 60 seconds:

British Alpine Origins: Some form of sleigh riding has been around for at least 500 years, but as a racing sport the origins are traced to the Alps in the 1800s. There are no Alps in Great Britain, but Britons on holiday are credited with inventing sled racing on Alpine roads that had been blocked by snow. By 1882, Davos, Switzerland, saw the first toboggan run constructed by vacationers from Britain and America.

Spooky Name: Initially, the sport was commonly known as "tobogganing." When metal sleds were first produced on a large scale in 1892, the frames resembled a human skeleton, hence the etymology that persists through the modern Olympics. There is also a death-defying aspect to the sport since there are no brakes and the slider must steer simply by shifting weight.

Cresta: Though Davos boasted the first run, the skeleton track at St. Moritz, Switzerland, put the sport on the map. Tourists and thrill-seekers traveled from far and wide to try the renowned "Cresta Run." English novelist E.F. Benson wrote in 1913: "There is one Mecca, there is one St Peter's, and there is one Cresta." That is probably overstating things slightly, but it accurately conveys the importance of Cresta in St. Moritz.

Olympic Skeleton: Skeleton made only two appearances at the Olympics in the 20th century, 1928 and 1948, and both came when the Games were held at St. Moritz. After the second Olympics, the sport disappeared from competition for over 50 years.

Here To Stay: It was not until the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City that skeleton was reintroduced to the Games for good. Sochi will be the fourth consecutive Games to include skeleton in the program.

The United States captured two gold medals and a silver in 2002, but no American athlete has medaled in skeleton since. Canada has taken the men's skeleton gold in each of the last two Olympics, plus the silver in 2006. Swiss woman Maya Pedersen took gold at Turin in 2006, and Amy Williams of Great Britain finished first ahead of two German sliders in 2010.

Sean Hojnacki covers basketball and breaking news for Bleacher Report. He worked as a writer and copy editor during the 2012 Olympics and is covering the 2014 Games as well. He is fascinated by the biathlon. You can find him on Twitter.

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